Article 1: Japanese Market Opportunity for Foreign Music
Japan is the world's 2nd largest music market after the USA and represents a huge share of global sales of both physical and digital music products. With over a billion YEN spent on international music every year, Japan is a great revenue opportunity for foreign artists/bands and record labels.
Japan has an affluent, westernized and modern society with a population of about 127 million people. Just the Tokyo Metropoitan Area has a population of 38 million - more than some countries. Every year, Japan accounts for millions of dollars in music revenues for many artists/bands and record labels from around the world. If you are in the business of making and selling music then Japan is your major market and should not be ignored.
In 2020, about 30% of all catalogued audio recordings (i.e. CDs) in Japan were international. The leading suppliers of CD's imported into Japan from Western countries are the USA, the UK and Germany. However, digital music sales for international music is outpacing sales of CD's in Japan.
In 2011, the flagship HMV store in Shibuya, Tokyo closed its doors forever as more and more music consumers prefer to stream and download their music on their devices. Many young Japanese (who make up the largest music-spending group) have never used a CD before and don't even own a CD player. However, the older consumers are more comfortable with CD's and the "real" music lovers (collectors, DJ's and older music afficionados) still buy vinyl records. Nevertheless, the majority of music sales in Japan is digital music of which 75% are streams and 25% downloads. Japanese use smartphones, tablets, and desktop/laptop computers to purchase and listen to digital music. The trend is to listen to music on smartphones via streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, AWA, Line Music, kkbox, etc.
With the focus on digital sales, foreign indie artists/bands and record labels can easily enter the Japanese music market and spend their budget on advertising and promotion rather than manufacturing, shipping, and warehousing CD's. Now there are resources and services available to break down language, distance and technical barriers, making it easier to take advantage of this market opportunity.
Many foreign indies have been able to achieve a level of sales and fame in Japan that matches or even surpasses that in their home countries.
Japanese Music Consumers - Will they like my music in Japan?
Japanese listen to and buy music and merch from artists/bands from many diverse countries and do not discriminate by nation, language or race. Millions of dollars in revenue is generated for foreign artists/bands and their record labels from Japanese music consumers. That is why many major and indie artists/bands come to Japan to tour or perform at music festivals/showcases every year.
Japanese music fans are not that different than fans in the West, except the preconceptions of what is "cool" or "uncool", and stereotypes do not really apply. In the West, preconceptions and stereotypes about music are shaped by media and peers. This is not the case in Japan as there are rarely any negative preconceptions attached with foreign music or artists. For example, Japanese people do not think or say "Disco Sucks!" or "Country music is for country folk!" or "Bon Jovi is not cool anymore". What may seem obscure, "uncool" or outdated in your country may not be so in Japan.
On Japanese mainstream radio you can hear an eclectic mix of music in Japanese, English, Spanish, and French from famous as well as unknown artists (maybe even from your own hometown). Even if the words cannot be fully understood, it is often the image, mood, style, and culture of the music and the personality of the artists that appeal to Japanese music consumers.
Finneas, Easy Life, Oliva Rodrigo, BTS, Ed Sheeran, Drake, The Weeknd, Metallica, Adele, Bloc Party, Sam Smith, Ozomatli, Pharrell Williams, Imagine Dragons, The Arctic Monkeys, Susan Boyle, Crystal Castles, Avril Lavigne, Norah Jones, Beyonce, Anvil, Sum41, U2, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and many other established and emerging foreign artists all sing in English (and other languages) and they have a good fanbase and sales in Japan. So language is definitely not a barrier between consumers and foreign music.
In the videos below, random people in Tokyo are asked what song they are listening to. Many listen to all kinds of music from around the world.
Naturally, the younger generation are influenced by pop culture from the West. Whatever is trendy in the USA and UK will eventually be embraced by the people of Japan in their own special way. With the 25+ generations, current pop culture is not so much an influence. There are niche groups in all kinds of music. And since Japan is a large population, these niche groups can be large (even more than in your own country). There are fans of country, bluegrass, jazz, Hawaiian, Latin, new age, gothic, punk, house, emo, death metal, hip hop, rap, neo-soul, gospel, etc. Fans in Japan tend to be the best fans in the world since they are very eager to participate and learn everything about anything having to do with a particular genre of music and artist. They are more likely to discover and connect with foreign artists that offer info, content and support in the Japanese language.
Sometimes people in the West are surprised when they find out that one of their own country's bands is "big in Japan". Many people scoff at this distinction and the phrase "big in Japan" has become somewhat of a joke. But when you consider Japan is one of the world's largest music markets, even "small in Japan" can mean fame and revenues for that band. Surely, any indie band with thousands or millions of streams from Japan, and selling out shows in Japan does not consider it a joke. They are probably laughing at all the other bands that have ignored Japan completely.
There are bands and labels from all over the world (some that have not even set foot in Japan) that are selling a few hundred, some a few thousand, and some a few million dollars worth in music in Japan each year. They are hard-working bands and labels that are smart and understand the global music business.
Currently, the most popular genres of music in Japan are foreign and domestic hiphop, RnB, alt rock, hard rock, metal, punk, techno, house, dance/club, idol, classical, and jazz. However, there is a demand for music with foreign ethnic origins such as African-American ("Black") gospel, soul, funk, and blues, as well as reggae, world, healing (new age), Hawaiian, and Brazilian/Latin music.
A notable change in the Japanese music industry has been the ongoing weakening of the traditional pattern whereby young "manufactured" pop idols drive the market with million-selling hit songs. Also, consumers age 30 to 55 years old are purchasing more music than ever before. Such consumers do not follow youth trends or fads, and demand more diverse music products for mature tastes. This market demand can be supplied by foreign artists/bands and record labels.
Recently, independent artists/bands and labelsonce the focus of only a small number of hardcore fansare growing in popularity as the music demands of consumers are becoming increasingly diverse. The distribution and sales systems in Japan for "indies" are now better establishedmaking it possible for successful indie artists to sell multi-platinum in Japan.
As is the case around the world, overall sales of CD's are declining while digital music and licensing for film/TV/games/anime and compilations are providing a growing source of revenues for both foreign and domestic artists.
Foreign and domestic indie artists can take a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach by forgoing traditional distributors and sell music and merchandise to Japanese consumers via the internet. Although promotion is still a challenge, it is easier now to distribute music to consumers all over the world. A Japanese website, YouTube music or lyric videos, and social media are essential. Also, playing shows at "live houses" and other venues is still the best promotion in Japan. Read more about playing gigs in Japan in Article #3 of this website.